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Alabama Shakes
Boys and Girls Julian Marszalek , April 10th, 2012 07:13

It's understandable that the antennae of cynicism start twitching uncontrollably when usually reliable sources of musical opinion are moved to declare on their Facebook, "The ex-guitar player of Loop said on 6 Music this evening that this lot are the best band to come out of the USA since The Strokes."

Leaving aside the laughable benchmark seemingly set by the posh lads from New York, the accompanying link to Alabama Shakes' appearance on Conan O' Brien's talk show revealed less the next step of musical evolution and more what the marketing department was going to serve up next. And that's before Russell Crowe's enthusiastic endorsement is given the once over…

Of course, it's a given that once a breakthrough occurs from an unexpected source then the industry will flood the market with any number of ersatz acts and bands. Here, we have the interesting concept of the marketing double whammy.

The planet-shagging success of The Black Keys has proved that the death of rock & roll (© The Broadsheets' music supplements) has, once again, been greatly exaggerated while Adele's continuing position as the World's Favourite Female Voice TM clearly displays the public's ongoing love of vulnerability with a strong set of lungs. So what better winning formula then a combination of the two?

This isn't to dismiss Alabama Shakes completely out of hand. In Brittany Howard, Alabama Shakes possess a formidably talented singer. Beautifully expressive and belying her 22 years on the heartache of 'You Ain't Alone', her voice rises and falls throughout to reveal quite the dynamic range.

Similarly, her cohorts know how to handle their instruments but their take on Southern Soul is way too reverential, studied and calculated to truly convince. Consequently, Boys And Girls is a somewhat predictable trawl through the back catalogues of Creedence Clearwater Revival, Stax Records, Janis Joplin and the recorded output of Muscle Shoals Sound Studios amongst others, but with none of the grit, passion or emotion.

The album suffers from an identikit feel like a musical Frankenstein's monster. From the funk of opener 'Hold On' through to the electric soul of 'Hang Loose' and the arpeggiated tears of the title track, this is a traditionally prepared gumbo aimed at the palettes of those lamenting the death of "proper music".

In a bizarre way, Alabama Shakes are the next step on the evolutionary ladder of the tribute band. Unlike say, The Jim Jones Revue, who breathe new life and a hip-shaking swagger into an existing musical form, Alabama Shakes' politeness and overly-earnest approach to their music robs it of the very feel that should be at its heart. Prepare to be underwhelmed by its forthcoming ubiquity…

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